Defect

He was an on-target Communist who regularly hit the Marx. Sat there, stroking his prodigious beard with his tattooed hand, he wondered about all those visits to Lenin that he had made. So long ago. Now he drank vodka in a bar in St Petersburg, Florida, and pondered how little return he had got on the investment of defection.

Vladimir was smoking cheap Russian smokes and watching the bar’s regulars mill around, turning circles through the dullness of their daily routines, until the momentum petered out and they pitched forward into their pitchers of beer.

He didn’t work now – he had invested well, and he had an amazing amount of resources. He had been a heavy in Mother Russia, and he had used his tendency towards mercy to garnish his pay quite handsomely – let someone off, take a little bit of information, and go and invest based on it. If it worked out badly and the information was bad, you could always locate creatures of habit easily, and you could break a few bones until they either paid up or remembered how to be useful some other way.

People came to ask him questions – students mostly. He was a swarthy good-looking fifty, and he bedded some of the sultry language students looking for a bit of danger. It was not how his life was supposed to turn out. He had been a straight up gangster since he got kicked out of school, and he had been building something of an empire. That period when the underworld was suddenly flooded by ex-KGB was hard though, and he had pissed a fair few of them off. He had to leave – given the death threats and the injuries he received, it did not take much to convince his liaison that he needed asylum.

It was cold outside, but it was bright, he walked down past the art museum to the park, where they sometimes showed movies, and he sat under one of the trees, looking up at the fairy lights, thinking about all he had lost; thinking about how long he had mourned those losses. It was time to go home, time to walk through the town, get on the bus, and make his way back to that little room. He never escaped his Russianness – it was the first thing anyone here noticed about him. He was proud, but it made him sad. Sat on the bus, he fell asleep, as he always did, and he dreamt of walking across the permafrost, seeing the twinkling ice crystals in the air before him – he woke up remembering how warm he always felt in Russia; he thought about how cold he felt in Florida. He laughed – life was a joke most people didn’t get. How often he was one of those.

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